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  Calligraphy 101  

For most westerners, the word ‘calligraphy’ simply brings to mind pretty letters on a page. But for the Chinese, it’s a highly prestigious art form, and an important aspect of the country’s culture.

With origins dating back to over three thousand years ago, calligraphy isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s about an expression of self.

In fact there’s a Chinese saying: 见字如见人, to see a person’s written characters, is to see his character.

I’m here at Xiangtang Eastern Calligraphy and Ink painting gallery, where some of the country’s best calligraphers gather to talk about their work. I might find some of them here.

With over 20 years of teaching behind him and 4 published books, Mr. Zhang Rongqing here is one of China’s best known calligraphy experts.

Being born Chinese, I have had some exposure to Chinese characters. For instance, I know how to write my own name. But I’ve never tried calligraphy before with one of these special brushes. And it’s not often that I get to be taught calligraphy by one of China’s best masters. So, Mr Zhang, will you teach me how to write my name?

Just let go.

When you are writing with a brush, you hold it at a different angle from a pen. Hold it straight up, and straighten your arm too.

So this one’s done by me and this one’s done by the expert. Can you spot the difference?

After my quick lesson in calligraphy, Mr Zhang invites me over to his house to talk more about the art form.

Like many arts, calligraphy uses some really special tools. Mr Zhang, will you introduce us some of the tools used in calligraphy for us?

There are four basic tools used in Chinese calligraphy. The first one is the brush. It is literally called ‘hair brush’ because it is traditionally created using hair from animals. Depending on the hair, it can be hard or soft. This brush is made with sheep’s wool, so it is quite soft. This one is made with hair from the tail of a yellow weasel, and it is much more stiff.

Next can you tell us about the inkstone? It’s called Yan, right? Yes, it is called Yan, or inkstone. It used to be made with different materials, but now it’s usually made with stone.

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